Place for Advertisement

Please Contact:

Using Common Resources by Ethnic Minorities of Barind Tract : Problems and Potentialities

Meghna Guhathakurta and Md. Korban Ali

a. Study background
The  Barind Tract covers major parts of greater Rajshahi, Dinajpur, Rangpur, Bogra and
Pabna districts  and  is the home 12 ethnic communities i.e. Santal, Oraon, Malpahari,
Mundari, Mushor, Mahle, Kolhe, Kamar, Kora, Bhunjer, Bhuya and Malo. Santal is largest of
all these communities and largest ethnic community in the plain land. According to 2001
Population Census  indigenous households and population of the above greater districts
estimated as 78,893 and 3,55,032 respectively of which majority belong to the Santal ethnic  group. NETZ Partnership for Development and Justice, a German - based org
anisation exclusively  working with bottom 20%  poor  people of Bangladesh since 1979 is implementing a 3 - year  duration project titled “Advancement of Marginalised Adivasis Deprived of Economic  Resources”(AMADER Project) in the Barind region (Dinajpur, Naogaon, Rajshahi and  Chapai Nawabganj districts) since May, 2009 in collaboration of 3 Partner NGOs (Ashrai in  Naogaon,  Sachetan in Chapai Nawabganj and
Polli Sree in Dinajpur). This is a Scale Fund  Project under EEP/Shiree (supported by EU, BMZ, DFID/Shiree and NETZ) aiming to  improve the livelihoods of 9000 extreme poor (EP) ethnic community households of the  project areas who are landless, 63% of whom are living on Khash land and 28% on others’  land.Organising EPethnic households into groups, capacity building of the group members, asset transfer (in the form of cattle, poultry, small business/grocery shop, sewing machines, bamboo craft, handcraft, vegetable seeds and seedlings) and savings are the major project activities. Asset is handed over to women member of the beneficiary households (BHHs) with sole ownership, but managed by other family members. After three years of project implementation, the project management feels the necessity of extending resource bases of the BHHs through exploring problems and potentialities in using common resources by these households. NETZ felt that using common resources may be conflictual matter –especially when those resources are limited, often contested and constitute the basis of livelihoods of vulnerable segments of the population. In Bangladesh, where land and water are a scarce resource and where the indigenous population is subject to severe discrimination and violation of their rights, conflicts revolving around resource management are sure to manifest in different forms. Before adopting steps for using common resources (which is mostly the Khash land and Khash ponds in
the Barind region), it is important to assess/identify the nature and causes of the problems now being confronted by the ethnic BHHs in using such common resources, the strategies they adopt to overcoming those and the best practices to resolve the problems and prospect of using common resources. Shapahar and Porsha Upazilas of Naogaon district were finally selected for the study and Research Initiatives, Bangladesh (RIB) has been requested for conducting the research.
1NETZ-Bangladesh (Undated). Operational Context Study. AMADER project

b. Agro - Ecological and Climatic Condition of Shapahar and Porsha Upazilas

Shapahar Upazila is covered by two major physiographies: Barind Tract and
Teesta  floodplain . On the other hand, Porsha Upazila comprises of Barind Tract and Punarbhava floodplain. In both the Upazilas, Barind area covers around 75% of the total area. Soils of both Upazilas range from clay to clay loam (98%) and only a small portion (2%) comprising clay loam. Annual total rainfall varies from 1400-1500 mm as against 1800 mm of national average. The mean annual temperature is around 250C and mean minimum and maximum temperature varies from 160C to 350C. High temperature is generally observed during April and May. The recorded highest temperature is observed as high as 440 C and as low as 4
0C. Trend of temperature showed that high temperature is increasing in recent decades. The agriculture practices comprises mainly of 3 seasons:
Rabi(November-February), Kharif-I(March-June) and Kharif-II(July-October). During Karif-I season, Transplanted Aus is the main crop and significant amount of land is left as fallow due to unfavourable distribution of rainfall. Kharif-IIis dominantly a
rain fed season, T. Aman is the main crop and covers 70-90% of the area. During Rabi season, a small amount of land is irrigated with HYV Boro where irrigation is available. About 1015% of the cropped area covered by wheat, mustard, pulses and vegetables where surface water is available. Cropping Intensity is 140% in Porsha and 170% in Shapahar. About 30-
40% yield reduction of T. Aman is generally caused by severe drought.2

c. The Barind Tract in History
“In 1772 the Raja of Chota Nagpur acknowledged the suzerainty of the British and thereby accepted paying regular revenue to the Crown. In order to earn cash for revenue payments, the Raja resorted to sub-infeudating land to Bengalis, who established
Atiq Kainan, Ehsan Hafiz Chowdhury and Stephen Baas, 2006.
Final Report
–Study on livelihood systems assessment, vulnerable groups profiling and livelihood adaptation to climate hazard and long term climate change in drought-prone areas of NW Bangladesh. FAO & DAE. Report Submitted to CEGIS, Dhaka.

themselves as contractors and landlords claiming ownership rights to Adivasi ancestral
land. The Permanent Settlement of 1793 gave the landlords wide jurisdiction, but the high
revenues levied from Adivasi cultivators catalysed revolts in parts of Bengal. As a concession to the protesting Adivasis, the British reduced the rents
in some of the areas of revolt and reinstated some Adivasi chiefs.”3But the concessions giventothe zamindars who gained wider jurisdiction including the se of the police completely undermined the
benefits of measuresextended to the Adivasis. Different forms of extortion and forced
cultivation of poppy crops etc were practiced.As a result, resistance took various different
formsranging from everyday resistance for dignity and respect to a collective violent form. Renowned among the latter type was the Santal Rebellion or Santal huul in 1855-57.In the 19th
century, the policies of maximizing revenue collection and facilitating commodity production for global markets, led to instituting new land tenure and management policies and permitting exploitationof Adivasis through intermediaries. Brutal measures were adopted to uproot Adivasis from some of their ancestral forested territories in order to employ them in new grand settlement schemes. They were relocated to less colonized parts of Greater Bengal and to north-eastern regions where cheap labour was urgently needed such as in indigo and tea plantations. Some were resettled and turned into peasant cultivators, others became day labourers.
The chief protection of the plainland ethnic minorities was provided by the ‘Chota Nagpur
Tenancy Act of 1908’, which prohibited the transfer of tribal lands to non
-tribals without the permission of the DC. Post independence, the state continues to formally recognize the special tenurial status of lands falling withinthe traditional domain of “aborigines”, pursuant to Section 97 of the East Bengal State Acquisition and Tenancy Act 1950.
This is a law relating to tenancies to be held under the state and other matters connected therewith. Under the scheme of the Act, the government became the only landlord to acquire all rent receiving interest by phases. By operation of section 3 of the Act, all holders of land became directly tenants under the government and they are described as
malik(owner), but all interest in subsoil right to minerals, hats, bazaars, forests, fisheries and ferries are vested in the government. The said law authorises the government to own and manage hats, bazaars, ferries, fisheries, etc.Section 97 empowers the Government to declare by notificati
on any aboriginal castes or tribes as “aboriginal” for the purpose of the section (but does not define the term “aboriginal”). Sub-section 2 of Section 97 EBSATA further provides that:no transfer by an aboriginal raiyat of this right in his holding or in any portion thereof shall be valid unless it is made to another aboriginal domiciled or permanently residing in Bangladesh.4In cases where the transferee is not an aboriginal, prior written permission of the Revenue Officer would be required. This provision, though meant to protect Adivasis, could also be seen as undermining their right to property by imposing restrictions on free transfer of the same. But the important point to bear in mind here is that the most Adivasis are not even aw are of these prote
ctive devices. For example, many Santals

3Bleie, Tone, “Tribal Peoples, Nationalism and the Human Rights Challenge; The Adivasis of
BangladeshUPL, Dhaka,2005, p.155
4Mohiuddin Farooque, “Traditional Land Rights: Conflict of Traditions” in Philip Gain (ed) op.cit, p.112.

reportedly lost their lands to usurious money lenders who used forged documents or
other deceptions to dispossess them. They also lost land due to the operation of the
Enemy Property Act 1965, and later the VestedProperty Act 1974as they were deliberately categorized as Hindus ( by virtue of possessing similar family names), or as peasants who failed to pay their taxes in time on their return from India as returnee refugees after 1971.
Many of those so dispossessed were unable to initiate legal procedures `given the lack of resources or awareness of the legal procedures involved. Many have reportedly migrated to India, in a stark indicator of their dispossession and disempowerment. While no official figures exist,there are claims reported that of the Santal community’s having lost 80 percent of their land.5

The Santals, Garos as well as other plains Adivasis allege that it is quite common for Bengalis to obtain false or predated registration papers from the Land Registry Office to assert title to their land. They also allege that the Land Revenue Office often refuses to take land tax from them withthe ultimate objective of dispossessing them from their land.6

Historical junctures like the East Bengal State and Tenancy Act of 1950 which abolished the
Zamindari system and subsequent emergence of Bangladesh created a situation of flux where
local power elites could forge documents and deny ethnic communities of any kind of title to  common land and resources. Localized systems of land tenure have complicated the situation.
The following case from one of our research area illustrates this:

d. Review of Literature related to the Problems & Potentialities of Using Common Resources by the Indigenous Communities
5Earth Touch, Dhaka: Society for Environment and Human Development, February 1997, p.16.
6Philip Gain and Shishir Moral, “Land Rights, Land Use and Ethnic Minorities of Bangladesh”,
Land,Vol.2. No.2, Dhaka, 1995, p.53.

Manipulation of land records In Shapahar Upazila of Naogaon, jotedar Rojoni Kanto of Babupur Mouza leased out land to three members of the Oraon community using the local tradition of Forka (i.e. gaining entitlements to land in lieu of petty cash). After this they acquired a settlement (
pattan) on these lands from erstwhile Zaminder Noren Chandra Ray Bahadur. Due to repression by the Pakistan military, the Bangladesh Liberation War the community took refuge in neighbouring India and took a while to return to their homesteads. During the time they were away the erstwhile Tahsildar ofthe area B.Mrecorded them as khas(or Government-owned) land and later transferred the title to his own father. Hence in 1962 the land records show that the lands were under Oraon possession, but in 1972 their names were not in the records anymore. After B.M. had recorded those lands in his father’s name, he sold 1.26 acres to someone in Babupur and he in turn sold it to an influential person of the locality, Mr. G. H.. In this way the laws of the land were successively manipulated resulting in the alienation of adivasi lands. Although the EBSATA of 1950 provided for protective measures of transfer of adivasi land, this was not invoked at any period in the case stated.

7reported that most of the conflicts prevailed in the indigenousvillages are land ownership-
related. These conflicts are often very difficult to solve. In fact, only 2 land ownership-related out of 13 have been solved so far. These conflicts are characterized by lack of adequate and reliable documentation concerning land property, untrustworthy selling and purchasing procedures, clashes between ethnic and non-ethnic community members (9 conflicts out of 13), incapability of local elites/authorities in solving the conflicts and long trials at local courts. Two of the reported disputes concerned access to water resources. In one case, the access to Khash pond is denied to a large number of villagers. Two conflicts concern access to the main road. Most ethnic community villages in the study area are physically separated from no-ethnic settlements and in most cases land surrounding these villages is owned by non-ethnic landlords. Referring an UP Chairman, Braun reported that land-ownership disputes are almost impossible to solve through Union Parishads or other local authorities as the authenticity of the documentation presented by the parties are difficult to verify. A court trial is often the only possible way to solve such types of conflicts. The widespread prejudices and permeating belief that members of the ethnic HHs are uneducated and unfamiliar with legal land ownership matters still induces non-ethnic land grabbers to illegally gain land owned by the ethnic HHs. In an institutional context characte
rized by corruption and where informal contacts with authorities play a significant role, wealthy and
socially well-integrated people can still take advantage of their socio-economic status. Long court trials which can stretch over decades involving different generations also tend to favour
non-ethnic parties. In the first place, parties coming from marginalized and poor communities
have more difficulties in coming up with legal costs and in receiving legal assistance from experienced lawyers. Village-level institutions and conflict management mechanisms (Shalish, UP, local leaders etc.) rarely seem able to solve land ownership-related disputes. Intervention capacity from NGOs on such delicate matters seems rather limited. Nevertheless, there appears to be s
ubstantial room for improvement as far as preventive actions are concerned, the study suggested.
used two terms, land seizureand land denial. Based on reviewing some important articles of eminent scholars, he observed that denial or blocking access to land is a complementary process to land seizure –both has similar consequences in terms of depriving poor peasantry from land. In practice, the two processes can overlap in time or occur sequentially as part of interactive dynamics of land struggles.Correlatively, resistanceto land grabbing or land denial by the affected groups can take place simultaneously or interactively.
The seizureor denial of lands necessary for livelihood has often activated poor peasants to
resist such processes despite their lack of wealth and influence. Resistancecan take many
forms depending upon the structure of domination to which the peasantry is subject as well as
feasible institutional and technical means available to them. At one end of the spectrum, there
are forms of open or overt resistance involving direct confrontation in which the identity and
actions of those resisting remain visible. These can include non-violent forms of resistance as well as violent ones, such as peasant revolution, rebellion, insurgency, armed struggle, national liberation struggle etc. At the other end of the spectrum are covert forms of resistance in which direct confrontation is deliberately avoided –termed as ‘avoidance-
7Jacob P. Braun, 2010. Study on Conflicts in Adivasi Villages. NETZ Study, October-2010
8Shapan Adnan, 2011. Resistance to Accumulation by Dispossession in the Context of Neoliberal Capitalism and
globalization: struggle for Defending and gaining Land Rights by the Poor Peasantry in the Noakhali Chars of
Bangladesh.Paper Presented at the International Conference on Global Land Grabbing, 6
8 April, 2011, Organised by Land Deals Politics Initiative (LDPI) in collaboration with the Journal of Peasant Studies and hosted by the Future Agricultures Consortium at the Institute of Development Studies, University of Sussex.

protest’. Actions may include acts of silent sabotage, foot-dragg
ing, dissimulation, etc. Mechanisms of dispute settlement, subsuming the formal judiciary and adjudicatory institutions, have a potential role to play in resolving conflicts over land rights and provide a channel for redressing grievances of conflict resolution. In the absence or failure of such
mechanisms, the dispossessed groups might have little option but to actively oppose land
seizure and land denial, making use of strategies of overt or covert resistance as discussed above. Given this much wider social and political arena of contentions, the effectiveness and
durability of holding land by the poor peasantry is likely depend crucially upon the balance of
forces between the coalitions supporting the dominant and sub-ordinate. Furthermore, the
balance of forces between the grabbers and the poor peasantry could shift over time in accordance with the outcomes of the dynamics of interactive strategies of domination and
resistance. Referring the struggle of the poor peasants of Noakhali chars, Adnan also rep
orted that defending lands and gain new ones was critically assisted by the judgements of higher
judiciary and role of public interest organizations. The latter consisted of a handful of NGOs
and legal aid organizations, including a group of socially committed lawyers. When mechanisms of conflict resolution and redressof grievances do not exist or operate effectively, the aggrieved party is forced back to the wall and may have little option but to oppose the illegal takeover of its land rights. Their strength could be augmented to the extent to that a supporting coalition of forces could be formed, involving broader alliance of national and international public interest organizations and NGOs, activists and advocacy groups. Mobilisation of such countervailing power by subordinate groups may serve to neutralize to some extent the biases imparted by prevalent power structure and policy regime, he suggested.
Roy et al.9reported that members of the indigenous communities appear to strongly perceive
and experience institutional bias, racism, and corruption within law enforcement agencies.
They considered that the agencies systematically favour non-ethnic parties, either by
instituting false criminal cases against them, or refusing to accept complaints from the
ethnic community members. Law enforcement agencies are also reported to act in complicity with
powerful interests, intent on the forcible occupation of land owned by ethnic communities.
Researchers of this study recommended a number of measures that include (i) preservation of
certain areas as common properties for community forests, communal grazing lands, jum
or other agricultural cultivation; (ii) preservation of water bodies as common property for use by
ethnic communities, rather than allocating/leasing/licensing them to individuals or corporate
bodies as private property; (iii) establishment of an elected body for the preservation and
management of such common property; (iv) recognition of customary rights of the ethnic
communities; and (v) strengthening community-based organizations among the ethnic
communities. Availability of Social Safety Net (SSN) services can be of much benefit to the ethnic people which they are mostly denied. Three key problems that put ethnic communities excluded
from getting SSN services are -their exclusion from SSNs-related information, that they are
not considered politically important, and on-going cultural labelling of ethnic people as 'subservient and backward’. It was found that ethnic communities do not receive information
on SSNs disseminated by the state system. This is in part because they are not accustomed to
9Raja Devasish Roy, Sara Hossain and Meghna Guhathakurta, 2007. Access to Justice for Indigenous People: A
Case Study in Bangladesh. In Towards Inclusive Governance: Promoting the Participation of Disadvantaged
Groups in Asia-Pacific. UNDP Regional Centre in Bangkok

modern dissemination process but also because information is rarely disseminated to their locality. Using RTI Act, 2009 by the BHHs and activists working with them may help in getting increased access to SSN by the ethnic communities.10It has now become increasingly evident that the
increaseof income and its subsequent productive use require “resources” which in most cases is the landin rural areas in general and Barind region in particular. Ethnic HHs in this region has their origin in forest-based livelihoods and later transformed to agriculture (livestock is also a part of agriculture) as main occupation. They have no other skill and experience outside
agriculture. So, the beneficiary HHs of the AMADER project needs agricultural land both for livestock rearing and agricultural production. Beside land, wateris the other vital natural resource required for rearing livestock, practising agriculture, as well as also for household uses, which is very scarce in Barind region. Both land and water are also the main instruments of the local power
structure, especially in Barind region, that are being used by the local influential to keep the
ethnic HHs under constant pressure. So, allocation and use of Khash land and Khash ponds
is the only potential source of agricultural land and water for the ethnic HHs. Present scenario of Khash land and Khash ponds in Shapahar and Porsha Upazilas of Naogaon as documented
by BMDA (Barendra Multi-purpose Development Authority), a government organisation appended in Table-111revealed that with the exception of those being usedby BMDA all remaining Khash ponds are now under so-called “private ownership” meaning all
are under the possession of local powerful families. Similar case  will apply for  Khash land, it  is apprehended.

Table-1: Information about Khash land and Khash ponds in Shapahar and Porsha Upazilas No. of Khash PondsUpazilas

So, prospect of using land and water resources (which are mostly Khash land and Khash
ponds) for agriculture by the ethnic HHs in the Barind region depends on (i) official
allotment of Khash land and Khash ponds to the ethnic HHs; (ii) legal fights for getting back of occupied/grabbed land/ponds; and (iii) pursuing organised resistance against dispossession
of present land. Mere allotment of Khash land and ponds through legal ways will not be sufficient unless these are released from the unlawful
occupiers, retained and used by the ethnic households against constant conspiracies of grabbing and dispossession. The present study expected to identify, analyse and document the prevailing disputes between ethnic and 10NETZ-Bangladesh, 2011. Extreme Poor Adivasis and the Problem of Accessing Social SafetyNets. Working Paper No. 4, October, 2011
11Barendra Multi-Purpose Development Authority (BMDA) Web:

non-ethnic HHs centring use of common resources, analyzing the natureof disputes, causes,
means, present status and transformation of disputes, examples of successful dispute
mitigation, etc. will help NETZ, Ashrai, AMADER project and the ethnic HHs to plan and
implement activities related to capacity building and empowerment towards gaining and
using common resources.

As envisaged in the study ToR, the planned study aimed at taking a comprehensive look at
well-defined aspects of resource-related disputes between ethnic and non-ethnic HHs in the
study Upazilas and at enhancing the conflict sensitivity, prevention of violence and conflict
transformation potential among the involved parties. At the end of the study following
specific objectives are expected to be achieved:

i.Disputes (in alternative terms, conflicts, tensions, problems) between ethnic and non-
ethnic households regarding use of common resources in the study areas are identified.
Nature, causes, effects, present status and means of disputes including  characteristics of the parties involved in disputes are identified, assessed, analysed and documented.

iii.Positive examples of managing/minimizing disputes and prevention of violence
by the conflicting parties are identified, analysed and documented.

iv.Managing common resource-use related disputes in a better way within the context of ongoing AMADER project both within as well as beyond the timeframe of the project are suggested and recommended.

v.Capacity of the ethnic BHHs in accessing and using common resources is enhanced through their participation in research.

a.Study Locations:
Shapahar and Porsha Upazilas of Naogaon district
b.Study Period:November, 2011 to March, 2012

The study has utilized diversified methods and tools. Methodology was finalised based on in
-depth discussions with the ethnic communities, local community leaders and local public representatives and follow-up discussion with NETZ-Bangladesh. Following research methods and tools were used in conducting the study:
Review of secondary data/information available with AMADERproject.
A field visit was undertaken to understand the general context and common resource management situation prevailing in the project area.
Large-scale FGDs/homestead meetingswere carried out in participatory action
research style to generate perceptions, opinions and consensus in the communities concerned. This particular method enabled the concerned groups to identify problems/disputes by themselves, analyze them collectively and draw consensual decisions and strategize solutions. Animators drawn from the project staff and ethnic communities were trained by RIB staff to facilitate this process. A subsidiary workshop of Right to Information Act was also organised with selected project staff (who are expected to work as animators and human rights activists) thus enabling
them to concretize advocacy with local authorities with respect to resource allocation.
In-depth interviews and case studies were also conducted as a complement to provide
an in-depth analysis of specific problems. Life-history method was also used for digging deeper into the situations and problems under study.

4.1Typesof Common Resources
The term common resources is used loosely here as an umbrella term to denote  properties, mostly water bodies and agricultural land which is publicly or government owned but which everyone has a right of use. So far, agricultural khas land is concerned, the East Bengal State Acquisition andTenancy Act 1950 was the mainframe legal document which was promulgated to
abolish the Zemindari System (Permanent Settlement of 1793). This law was thebasis for all subsequent laws on khas land which declared that "So far asagricultural lands .... are concerned, they shall be held by one class of people to be known as maliks  or  raiyats which means that those shall be no intermediary between the State at the top and malik or raiyats to be regarded as the tillers of the soil at the bottom".

Abul Barkat, Shafiquzzaman and Selim Raihan in their study on Distribution and retention of Khas Landin Bangladesh
12stated the following facts:
The estimated amount of total identified khas land in Bangladesh is 3.3 million acreswith 0.8 million acres of agricultural khas land, 1.7 million acres of nonagricultural khasland, and 0.8 million acres of kwaterbodies.The above amount of khas suffers from underestimation. The actual amount of khas landshould be higher than 3.3 million acres. This is attributable to the fact that a part of theland (agricultural, non-agricultural) and waterbodies which should be khas is still not identified in the official record (extent of which is unknown). The reasons are attributable to the problems in official land record system, and dispute between government and "so called" owner. Official source claims that about 44 percent of the 803,308 acres of (identified agricultural khas
land has already been distributed among the poor, landless and destitutes. The validity of this distribution statistics is questionable on three counts:
12Barkat, et. al. The Political Economy of Khas Land in Bangladesh, ALRD, Dhaka, 2009,pp3-5

There exists a distinct gap between the official declaration and reality: not 44 percent of the agricultural  khas land (official figure), but at best 26 percent of the same has been distributed (i.e.; the official distribution figure is 40% exaggerated). The rest are illegally occupied by rich and powerful people in the society.
2. Of the amount distributed so far, about 56 percent could not be retained by the poor people, which are engulfed by the local influentials inconnivance with theagents of the power structure.
3. As a result ofcombined effect of the above two estimates, it can be concluded
that only 11.5 percent of the agricultural khas land has been effectively owned bythose for whom the land is meant for --the landless and poor, and 88.5 percent are illegally occupied by th
e rich and powerful.

Given the above context we can state that the beneficiaries of AMADER Project who was
the subject of our study were landless people of ethnic origin
who were living in land that was declared as khas and which they have had in possession
for over a number of years. Common resources also consisted of water bodies (large ponds),
Debottor property or places of worship, temples, and access roads to temples,
crematory grounds both as water bodies (ponds) or the banks of ponds, though the legal status of the above may be construed differently.
Lands used by the ethnic communities as crematories, common land attached to the temples etc.have not been recorded properly,. They were mostly recorded as khas
land and thus also become the targets for grabbing. The following
table gives a list of common resources drawn up through interviews with community members
fromFGDs held in eight locations.
Table:2: Common resources of indigenous peoples

Source: Field Study, 2012

From the above table we see the following:Khasland is occupied more by non-ethnic
households than ethnic households. Bengali farmers occupy more water bodies than ethnic community. One hillock is occupied by Bengalis and two forest areas are occupied by ethnic communities but both are contested. In places of worship adivasi and Bengalis occupy each but both are contested. Even crematory grounds which are supposed to be a common resource used only by adivashis are occupied by Bengalis. Only one temple
belongs to adivashis.In the case of water bodies like ponds or lakes, thebanks and trees growing in banks are also contested. In one case the fruits from mango trees planted on the banks of a pond are harvested by the influential Bengali who current occupies the banks. Since this is in particular a water scarce region, control of water from ponds and lakes are particularly sought after. In many cases where dominant Bengalis control the ponds they have prevented indigenous people and sometimes Bengalis too from bathing in it or using it for other purposes like fishing, sinking tubewell on its banks, taking fruits from the trees on its banks etc. Often they have struck up alliance with the local government and taken advantage by drawing up water for irrigation to water their own cops.

4.2Nature of conflict: parties, vested interests and stakeholders
The nature of conflict over common resources is varied according to different locations and thenature of power politics in the specific area. The following categories of conflict have been identified in the areas where our FGDs were held according to the stakeholders and vested interests whohave become party to the conflict
(a) Conflict between ethnic/indigenous groups and Bengalis

(b) Conflict between ethnic/indigenous and Bengali landless and small farmers and Bengali
influential persons of the locality

© Hegemonic control of Shahus(traditionalself-declared landlords of the area) over the rest of the population

(d) Indigenous communities versus migrant Bengalis

(e) Occupation and counter-occupation of land by political parties

(f) Inter-ethnic conflicts

(a) Conflict between ethnic/indigenous groups and Bengalis
This type of conflict is the more prevalent especially in those areas where Bengali farmers
have successively encroached on indigenous land over time. Some influential Bengalis

Interviewing a local Bengali in Nirmoil Union M.R, is the richest man in this village. He owns 20 bighas of land besides the Talpukur (abig pond). Disputes over the pond started when he began to use the water of this pond unilaterally. After that, the villagers have put him in a kind of exile i.e. not socializing with him. He responds: “In the last Aman season, my paddy crops were
dying from want of irrigation. I then approached one of the members of the Union Council who with others of the same neighborhood had occupied the pond. They held a meeting and decided that they would not allow me to draw the needed water. I then went to the Upazila Nirbahi Officers (UNO)’s office and complained. He, together with the Union Council Chair came to investigate and instructed me to use the water. After that I used the water from the pond. I have no quarrels with anyone.”

through cultivating relations with the local land records office and taking the opportunity of
the flux created by the abolishment of the zamindari system through the East Bengal State Acquisition and Tenancy Act of 1950 and also the dislocation of the population, especially ethnic minorities during the 1971 Liberation War, has been able to manipulate land records in
their favorresulting in the dispossession of common land and resources traditionally enjoyed
by these communities. In many such cases, litigations and counter litigations are taking place.
Since possession of land is just as important as documentation, ethnic communities have
often successfully occupied such contested land in order to reclaim their traditional land. The
process begins with forceful harvesting of crops or stooping the occupiers from harvesting
their own crops leading to violent battle participated by both women and men of the
community. In Oronpur, Tilna Shapahar for example, the local influential Bengali who in
2010 attempted to occupy 8.56 acres of indigenous land, bought a 14
0 strong ‘lathial bahini’ ( men armed with bamboo polesor other hand-made weapons) and tried to destroy the crops planted by the indigenous people. They were resisted by first men from the indigenous community, but they were repeatedly pushed back by the
armed men. The indigenous women came forward into battle, but they too were beaten and driven away. They were then joined by women of neighboring areas. The battle resulted in many physical injuries and about 10 litigations for which 5 lakh takas were spent. This resulted in urgent sale of assets resulting in loss of household income and consequent impoverishment.

Those who have possession may also deny access to opponents in the following ways:
(i) Sinking tubewells in the banks
(iii) Sale of
(iv) Picking fruits from trees

(b) Conflict between ethnic/indigenous and Bengali landless and small farmers and Bengali
influential persons of the locality More successful possession of land by the indigenous community has been observed where indigenous communities have struck up an alliance with Bengali landless peasants against a coterieof the village power elites. This was possible in Purba Babupura, Oronpur, Tilna of Shapahar upazila largely because of the role played by the Union Council Chairman.
Long before independence, disputes raged on regarding the use of the following common
resources: (a) 18 decimals of khash land where 700 trees were planted whose fruits were
being enjoyed by the few powerful elites; ( b) two ponds of 1 acre 8 decimalsand 1 acre 10
decimals respectively, the banks ( a hillock) of the latter were currently in the possession of
both ethnic and Bengali landless peasants , (c) an access road leading to the banks of the
pond, which is often blocked and repair work prevented.In the 2000, the Union Council Chairman advised the indigenous and Bengali landless peasants to strike an alliance and jointly take possession of one of the ponds and its banks, which they successfully did. Since the ponds were categorized as khash, they would not be conceded legally to private ownership17 indigenous families and 14 Bengali families jointly took possession over night. The next day the lathial bahinisof the elite destroyed their houses, but they rebuilt them. The Union Council Chairm  an and members were in favor of the landless because of consideration of votes as wellas the fact that the Chairman and one of the elites belonged to opposing political parties.

(c) Hegemonic control of Shahus(traditional self-declared landlords of the
area) over the rest of the populationIn some remote areas of our study in the Porsha Upazila, we found the traditional landlord type of powerful family with the title of Shahus. They are said to own 100 to 1000 bigha of land. They have near hegemonic control of over all common resources and as will be seen even over laborand personal relations. In Murulia of Porsha Upazila, the powerful N.I. Shahu hasattempted to take over not only recorded khash land but also places of worship of
indigenous communitiesand cremation grounds. The local Shahu leader has planted 100
mango trees in the cremation grounds and the indigenous communities have had to take their
dead further away to another pond ( also contested) to perform their last rites.

(d) Indigenous communities versus migrant Bengalis

In the Nirmoil Union of Potnitola some Bengali peasants migrated and settled in a plot of land owned by the Forest department. For their own security they decided to ask several households from indigenous community in the locality to come and settle with them. As a result the settlement has now 19 households from indigenous community and about three-fifthhouseholds are Bengalis.. the Bengalis in the meantime had manipulated the land records at the local Tahslidar office. But since the land belongs to the forest Dept. the documents were proved to be forged and false as the local Tahsildar office cannot make such documents of land that belongs to the Forest Department. Currently the relations between the two communities have been heated due to conflict over an incident related to fishing in a pond excavated by the indigenous community. But this was resolved in a sane matter by the forest Rangers Office in the neighboringUpazila of Paikbanda. He said that since this land was owned by the Forest department, everyone had the right to settle in it.


The Case Study of Asiya
Asiyawas born an Adivasi woman. At 20 she married a Pahari adibashi. After giving birth
to five children, she separated from her husband. Her ex husband remarried and started life
in a neighboring village. Asiya raised her children on her own by practicing herbal medicine. Through her practice she became acquainted with powerful person of the village I. Shahu. He came to see her regularly and a relation developed between them. He proposed marriage to her and had her convert to Islam. She paid a deen mohar of 2 lakh 200 taka. But for 8 years, Shahu came to visit her in the day. She wanted him to take her to his home, but he kept giving excuse after excuse. At one time he denied his marriage to her and Asiya filed a case against him in court, but in the investigation it was found that he had forged his marriage papers. She lost the case and was asked not to appeal further in exchange for 2 bighas of land, but she did not get that.
Feeling totally betrayed she went back to her herbal medicine practice and bought 16 decimals of land from two influential villagers. But though she said that she had all the appropriate documents, the indigenous communities claimed this land to be khash land and have asked her to leave her house. When she refused to leave they raided her house so that she was forced to leave. She filed a case and an arbitration was held where local authorities were also present. And they all asked her to leave her house. She currently lives in her father’s home.

 (e) Occupation and counter-occupation of land by political partiesOften disputes over common resources revolve around political personalities of the locality, making the ethnic communities hostages and pawns in their rivalry. In Kochukori village of Potnitola, two ponds are contested territories. One was traditionally used for cremation rituals, the other is where on the banks most reside. To be precise, 45 were from the Pahan community, 12 from the Oraon community, 2 from Hindu Rajbongshi community and 2 from Brahmin households.The claimants to these ponds have been see-sawing between BNP leader and Awami League leaders according to which regime is at that time in power. During the BNP regime indigenous communities have not been allowed to use the water from these ponds in any form. During the Awami League regime currently the local MP Shadhan Majumder has given verbal instruction for the ethnic communities to use the water bodies,but they know that it is temporary. Their position is precariously vulnerable to the swings of power politics.

(f) Factionaldispute among ethnic communities over common resources
In our study we just found one such instance in Shyampur of Porsha Upazila. The dispute centered on a Khash pond. The pond was originally in possession of 14 indigenous
Households residing in the northern banks of the pond. But in 2011, an indigenous leader
from Shyampur, southern side, took a lease from the Union Parishad office to catch fish. The
households in the north, complained because there was another pond in their area which they
were using. Others were prevented from bathing there let alone take any water. Hence none of the
northernresidents could cultivate land aroundthat area. But from the point of view of
the southern residents, they thought that since the ponds were khash, then legally anyone could take lease of it. But once lease was taken they opined the lessee could prevent others
from over utilizing the water since that would mean that the water table would be affected
and the pond will not serve any economic purpose e.g. irrigation, fish culture etc.
The two factions quarreled bitterly over this issue and were not seen to socialize with each other as well. Thisalso hampered the work of Ashrai, the local partner of NETZ. Hence they asked their local member to take initiative to solve the issue.The conflict was effectively mitigated by the intervention of the Tetulia Union Parishad. ( see later section on Best Practices)

4.3Causes of conflict
From the above description, it is apparent there are both immediate causes as well as long
term causes for the conflict over use of common resources. The immediate causes are merely triggering incidents which manifest themselves in violent battle, arduous litigations or a never
ending cycle of possession and repossession of land and water bodies. For proper remedy to
the situation however it is the long standing causes that need attention. We divide these up
into the following categories.

Opinion of the Forest officer from Paikbanda“ It has not been a long time that I have come to this area. I do not know many land that is owned by the Forest dept. But a complint has bee made to me by the indigenous community over a piece of land that has been contested by Bengali migrants. I have,checked and found that this has been gazetted under the Forest dept. in 1961 according the Proja Shotto (peasants rights Act of 1956. So that is why I moved in favour of the indigenous community’s right to stay. Besides,the Bengalis who have settled here are very ferocious and complex. They even use women for their interests.”

(a)  Existing Power configuration
Local power elites are the main perpetrators of conflict. They gain
their support base by establishing links with local government authority, local politicians and also tenurial relations with local Bengalis through leasing out of land and other resources.

(b) Insufficient and inefficient legal infrastructure and judicial system to address huge
number of complex cases
Access to local courts is both expensive and arduous for poor people, ethnic or otherwise. But even when they do take the trouble to approach them, they are hardly ever ensured of quality service given the lack of competence in the lower judiciaries. In some cases, the government has not formally recognized the people or community concerned as one to whose members the protective provisions of the EBSAT Act apply. The fact that this is one of the laws that is
specially protected by the Constitution (Article 47 and Schedule 1) is a positive feature, providing a strong constitutional entrenchment, and safeguards against legal challenges in the superior courts of law.

(b)  Corruption in land records and management in local governance
Corruption in the Land Registry offices of Bangladesh is not unknown and is quite daunting
for the uninitiated. Thusit is not likely that they will get any preferential treatment there.
Even in cases of recorded land, where Adivasis actually have title deeds to their land, they
may nevertheless lose possession of the same, when powerful local individuals or economic
interests obtain false registration papers from the Land Registry office, or obtain predated titled deeds procured illegally

(d) Lack of sufficient documentation and records in the case of petitions by ethnic community
In the case of unrecorded land (including common lands such asforests, graveyards, cemeteries, and privately owned lands), the non-recognition of the prescriptive rights of Adivasi communities or individuals of such land results in its being mis-classified by the concerned authorities as khash
(government owned) land.

(e) Insensitivity and Discrimination towards the situation of indigenous communities
Lack of awareness of indigenous rights and their lives and livelihood along with extreme
discriminatory practices and attitudes at the local level has been at the heart of land grabbing
efforts by Bengalis. A quote by an influential Bengali is illustrative of this “They come from the jungle! Why do they need land?” This also typifies the complete estrangement of Bengalis from the concept of land as being inherent to ones possession as is represented in the indigenous belief system as opposed to the Bengali world view of land as serving a utilitarian view i.e. source of food, livelihood, profit.

(f) Need to sensitize people on the conceptual notion of common resources in a world of
increasing market competition
The concept of common land is barely visible in the legal jurisprudence of Bangladesh. In one of the highest density region of the world struggling to survive in a neo-liberal world of
competition and individuality, it is understandable that the concept of common land and collective use of resources does not have many fans and admirers. Yet it is also a world where we are talking of global warming, climate change and planet earth. The contradictions are immense, and in order to reduce the gap of these contradictions and make a world livable for our next generation we must make an attempt to reduce such contradictions.

Strategies adopted
Among the strategies adopted by both ethnic and non-ethnic communities affected by grabbing of common resources in the Barind Tract, the following were noted:
(a)  Destroying the crops and harvests poisoning fishes of the occupier

(b)  Occupation of land and ponds and their banks have been a common strategy of the ethnic communities.

(c)  Direct armed and militant confrontationor resistance

(d) Taking legal recourse has been expensive, but often there have been no other options.
Lack of formal documents has beena severe handicap.

(e) Other forms of longer term strategies sometimes aided by development organizations or
otherwise evolved internally through processes of struggle. CARITAS has leased in some ponds
where collective pisciculture by ethnic communities is seen to be successful. This strengthens
their sense of collective ownership. On the other hand in one village the very act of struggle and fighting battles for possession for a pond with adjoining land both in and out of court have strengthened organizational capacity in some members of the community. In Khotirpur of Porsha Upazila the indigenous community organized a battle for possession. Someone was put in charge of documentation and conducting the case, another forcommunicating with the local government, and local press, another in organizing the villagers, and still another as intelligence. In this way leadership abilities were enhanced as in the following case study.

Interview with lawyer of Babupura“I have false cases lodged against the indigenous communities like theft of paddy, and fish. There is not enough content in these. Cases regarding the ponds also have no volume, no record no nothing. I sometimes think some of these courts are like kangaroo courts. As for mediation, he thinks that this would only weaken their position.”

C. Murmu
C. Murmu is a 45 year old day laborer from the ethnic community of Porsha. She had studied only upto the 2ndgrade. She resides on the banks of a pond which is now contested. She participated ina battle to retain possession of the water body. She also played an important role in communicating information to the local authorities during the struggle. She followed up all the investigation reports. Once the police raided a neighborhood and beat up all the women. C. Murmu filed a complaint in the thana and the OC of the police station was transferred. The new OC did not ever venture to repeat such incidents in the neighbourhood. C. Murmu also helped to influence the media and other opinion-makers to see things from the perspective of indigenous peoples. She also participated in the mediation, but when she saw that the mediation was notgoing in favour of the indigenous community, she withdrew from it. She also was responsible for fund raising in order to conduct the cases in court.

4.5Bestpractices of conflict management
There have been many attempts to resolve the many conflicts in this region. Many have failed
but some have been effective. We shall look at some of the more successful attempts found in
our study in order to learn from them.

(a)In Babupura of Shapahar Upazila, the conflict around the possession of a cremation ground was successfullyresolved through the mediation of Union Parishad, Police administration and the Secretary of the local Press Club. It seems that the issue gained attention of the public when it was first reported by local reporter of Amar Desh and Dainik Korotowa .

(b)The conflict between two factions of an indigenous group over the use of a pond in
Shyamnagar was effectively resolved by a Salish (arbitration) called by the Tetulia
Union Parishad. A leading role was played by the Shyampur ward member. The
salish was attended by the Chairman, the Amin(Government surveyor), ward member, village elders and majorprotagonists from both sides.When asked to produce the lease paper, it was seen that it only consisted of 7 decimals. Then on further investigation it was found that
the pond fell into two mouzas. 26 decimals fell in Shoronpara Mouza and 7 decimals in Shyampur. The decision was therefore that both factions will jointly cultivate fish, but these
will be five divisions. One part shall go to the lessee from Shyampur and the other four will go to the residents of the northern banks.

(c)The conflict in Muruli village between migrant Bengalis and settled indigenous households over a piece of land which was actually owned by the Forest department of an adjoining union was mentioned before. Here we saw that the Forest Officer on his own initiative consulted the laws and resolved the issue in favor of the indigenous communities. Here the successful intervention was based on the reading of legal documents and the authority exercised by the Forest Officer was credible as he had come very recently to the area and had no affiliations with the existing power network in the region. He was also a recent graduate of Rajshahi University. Although both
sides followed his instructions, the powerful Bengalis still engage in skirmishes and verbal threats to the indigenous communities.

(d)In Fokanda Pashim Para, a long term dispute between current UP Chair and ex-UP Chair regarding the use of a pond was resolved currently by some well-meaning party officials of Awami League in favor of the indigenous use of common resources. It was decided that Bengali powerful elites shall not use the waters of the pond. It was decided that a 40% of the pond’s resources i.e. fish will be enjoyed by indigenous communities and 60% will go to Bengali landless and poor. But this was a decision reached on the basis of a political consensus which was valid at that time. There is a
fear that as soon as the political regime changes, this resolution will hold no water. From th
e above we can see that an effective resolution of the conflict is possible when both the local context combined with legal jurisdiction is engaged. In addition,t he local people seem to think that direct confrontation can be prevented or deterred when the local police administration is on high alert and when the local administration acts on the basis of facts and not be biased by local politics. Where indigenous people have struck up effective alliance with Bengali landless or land poor, the chances of success are greater. The role of opinion makers like the media, civil society, and indigenous leadership are also important to give credence to these issues and take them up another notch through national advocacy.

5. Asset Transfer from AMADER Project:
This study is not meant to be an evaluation of the AMADER project, but there are some lessons
that can be learnt about the specific programme from our study findings. These are:

(a)  Benefits have accrued to some households. Some even reported savings of 80,000
BDT. Other households admitted to selling off their assets. The reasons for this were that they could not adjust their incoming earning activities with market fluctuation.
There is a need to address market fluctuations and strengthen market awarenessinto the development package.

 (b) Excessive litigations have resulted in drainage of household income and resources.
 (c) Shortage of water supply has contributed towards their chronic and increasing poverty. More supplementary income generating measures need to be taken during the dry season or crisis months.

Recommendations may be addressed at the following levels:
(a)Local context
(i)Local level organizationsboth people and local administration maybe capacitated in conflict management practices.The AC ( Land) could be made the focal point for dispute resolution
(ii) Networks and alliances maybe built and strengthened between Indigenous and
Bengali landless or land poor in the area.
(iii) Basic concept of common resources and its use in both legal jurisprudence and socio-cultural makeup of the region needs to be imparted to all local officials and relevant bodies working in the area
(iv) People may use the Right to Information Act to gain access to safety net programs as well as information regarding legal status of common resources.
(v) The post of a Welfare Officer in local administration could be re introduced in practice. Provision should be made to see that whoever is posted know the language and culture of the dominant indigenous groups of the area and is sensitive towards their well-being and rights.

(b)Developmental Context
(i) Legal awareness and more legal aid provisions maybe incorporated into the development agenda of organizations working in this area.
(ii)Training/capacity-building on understanding about land-related laws , collection andpreservation of land-related documentsis deemed essential

(iii) Identification of strategies(both agricultural and non
agricultural) needed to overcome seasonal food security (during Aswin-
Kartik and Falgun-Jaistho). Best practices in other areas like community-managed paddy bank,seed bank may be adopted

(iv)Education being a strategic right i.e. a right that may serve the fulfillment of other
rights, should be seen as a focal point for developing areas with indigenous population. Pre-
primary and primary education especially should be of prior importance with sufficient quotas and provision for mother language education for adivasi children.

(c )Legalcontext

(i) The Right to Information Act maybe implemented to enable pro-active disclosureson Khas
land in these areas.

(ii)A Task Force or Commission to review Land Reform/ Law Reform for the Barind Tract ( engaging both Government and NGO partners) may be set up to look at the legal loopholes resulting in long-standing disputes inthe area.
(iii) Members of the Standing Committee for Land may conduct visits to each area
where adivasi land is in danger of being dispossessed.

(iv) Special Land Tribunals may be instituted at District Levels ( see Roy, 2012), especially for resolving those disputes which fall under the protection clause for Adivasi land under the EBSATA.

(d)National Policy
(i) A Land Commission for the Plainland Indigenous Community maybe instituted.
(ii) Centralized monitoring of all Land Registry Offices and an updated system of  maintaining land records accommodating local specificities needs to be instituted

(iii) Continuous research, lobbying and campaign needs to be conducted to justify the  need to place indigenous land rights and common resources as a priority issue in  the national agenda, especially in a futuristic perspective where alternative land  management policies and mechanism need to be evolved to serve the demographic developmental and environmental needs of Bangladesh.

Authors’ Note: In this report,terms such as ethnic minority, indigenous, have been used interchangeably.Acknowledgement:Thanks toMr. Matiur Rahman and Munna Das who conducted the field work and Ms. Suraiya Begum and Pratap Chandra Bijoy who conducted the workshop on
RTI with Ashraifield staff. Thanks also to both the staff of NETZ Bangladesch and ASHRAI
for their cooperation.

Share on Google Plus

About Tudu Marandy and all


Post a Comment